Crappie can be caught throughout the year, but there are times and places when the fishing can extraordinary. The Santee Cooper lakes and October are that ideal combination of place and time.
According to several guides, the crappie bite on Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie is really on in October. But there are some differences in the two lakes, particularly in terms of depth and location, patterns that will help angler be more consistent if they know the score.
Kevin Davis, who guides out of Blacks Camp, prefers Lake Moultrie. Guide Buster Rush is a Lake Marion expert. Both agree that consistency is of several reasons they prefer October fishing.
“This is among my favorite seasons for consistently catching slab crappie,” Davis said. “The spring is obviously great for big fish, but these fish are often scattered at different depths at different stages of spawning. Plus, the weather can have a major influence on the depths on a daily basis during spring, and it’s often more difficult to put a pattern on them. During October, there is usually good weather consistency, and the crappie will typically be relating to open-water brush or woody cover and will often be found stacked up in good numbers as well as huge sizes.
“I catch a lot of slabs in 18 to 28 feet of water over brush piles or stump fields during October in Lake Moultrie,” he said. “That is the normal depth range, but depending on weather and water conditions it can vary from as shallow as 12 feet down to 35 feet or more. But for October crappie, the keys are sufficient depth and woody cover. Fishermen have a good opportunity to catch lots of big crappie in October. As a bonus, in my opinion, the fishing action is excellent on both lakes.”
Davis (843-753-2231) said the stable, comfortable October weather is a prime reason he enjoys crappie fishing. He also said you don’t necessarily have to get out early to have the best results.
“At this time of year, the crappie will be out foraging early in the morning, and a lot of times, we don’t catch a lot of big crappie until the sun gets up a little higher in the sky,” Davis said. “The reason for that is as the day gets brighter, the fish begin to move back to the cover of the brush piles, where they can forage on minnows attracted to the brush and where they can find shelter. That’s where we can target our efforts to catch them.”
Davis said brush piles, logs and other woody cover are key places to catch crappie on Moultrie, a big, open lake. His primary technique is to use live minnows on a tight-line rig, as well as small jigs tipped with minnows. He will fish directly under the boat and uses light-action rods ranging from six to 10 feet in length to cover more territory as he works over the brush.
“I rely heavily on my graph and GPS to find the right places,” he said. “Over the years, I have found several areas I can target for good fishing at different times of the year. I certainly have some places reserved for October fishing.”
Davis said fishing brush is inherently a technique that will produce snagged rigs, but that’s just part of catching crappie. But he begins with a strategy that helps him avoid the snags.
“I’ll identify the area I want to fish by using my graph, since most of the places will be in open water along drops and humps,” he said. “By dropping a marker buoy slightly off the targeted area, I can use that as a visual aid to keep me in the right place when fishing. I don’t drop the marker right in the middle of the cover or brush, because that will disturb the fish as well as likely tangle the marker. If there is a wind to contend with, I will use the electric motor to work into the wind for better boat control.”
Davis said that he will usually place the bait at or slightly above the top of the cover or brush.
“Best case scenario, which happens quite often in October, is the crappie will be holding just around the top edges or suspended just over the top of the cover,” he said. “This usually means they’re in a biting mode, and the chance for getting snagged is reduced when fishing the top and edges. But sometimes the crappie will be deeper along the edge of the cover or actually in the midst of branches. This takes a big more finesse, but you can get the minnow down to the crappie with a little effort. When you do get the bait to the right depth the fish usually bite quickly. But again, if I am careful with the boat-control aspect, we can get in the cover and get the fish out with quick reactions to the bite. At this time of the year, the fish are often aggressive on the bite as well as in terms of providing a good fight once hooked.”
“I literally determine the exact depth of the top of the brush and pull the line off the reels in one- or two-foot increments so I can position my bait precisely,” Davis said. “Bait or jig presentation is crucial to catching crappie. One obliging trait of crappie is they will move up to take a bait, so you can present it just above them — and just above the brush — and they will come up to take it on many occasions.
“On some days, we’ll be able to catch limits fishing just a couple of places, but sometimes we’ll have to move to several places during the course of a day to catch a bunch of fish,” he said.
“October is a great time to catch huge crappie. The fish have been feeding heavy all summer and are usually fat and feisty by fall. And the fish are back in Santee Cooper in excellent numbers and sizes”
Davis said he uses 6-pound Trilene 100 Percent Fluorocarbon with a No. 4 Eagle Claw gold Aberdeen hook when tight-lining minnows.
While Davis primarily fishes Lake Moultrie, Rush (803-432-5010) said that Lake Marion is just as productive in October.
Rush has been guiding crappie fishermen for many years and has seen the rise and fall — and now the rise again – of crappie fishing on the Santee Cooper lakes. He lives in Camden but has a house on Lake Marion; the lake is a second home to him, and he is glad to see the crappie population booming again.
“We absolutely had a fantastic season in the summer and fall of 2012,” Rush said. “It was like old times in terms of catching lots of crappie, slab crappie and lots of limits of quality fish. My son, Russell, guides with me, and without a doubt, we feel last year was the best we’ve seen in a while, and we expect the same or better in 2013.”
Rush uses the same basic tight-line technique as does Davis and most successful Santee Cooper crappie guides. He begins at the top of the brush and works deeper as needed.
“I keep it as simple and effective as possible,” said Rush, who also relies heavily on his graph and intimate knowledge of the underwater brush and trees on Lake Marion for finding crappie.
During the course of the month, he will fish from 12 to 18 feet of water; he said that’s one big difference between the lakes: crappie are usually found shallower in Lake Marion.
“The great thing about the fall crappie fishing in is that the action is very stable and predictable,” Rush said. “During October — and actually from mid-September until early November — the crappie will typically be stacked on the brush piles, and limit catches are the rule, not the exception, at least based on last year. Often, we’ll catch a lot of fish in the 1- to 2-pound and even-larger class from a single location. Sometimes we’ll have to fish two or three places to limit out, but odds are very good we’ll find plenty of fish.
“Unless we get unusual weather systems with high winds and a bunch of rain, September and October are among my favorite months for consistent action on slab crappie,” Rush said. “Crappie are locked into the pattern of holding on brush and other woody cover around humps and drops, and they are very predictable. They’ve had the summer to forage and grow, and that’s why we catch a lot of big crappie during the fall.”
Rush said his rigs consist of 10-foot B&M crappie poles with a 1/0 Eagle Claw Gold Aberdeen hook with 12-pound test line. Rush uses a No. 4 split shot for weight, unless it’s windy, and he’ll add some additional weight to keep the line tight and straight.
“Years ago, it was common to expect to catch limits of quality fish, then we saw a severe decline in the fishery for a number of years.” Rush said. “But now, we’ve seen resurgence in the fishery, and the fishing opportunities are great. We have had consecutive strong year-classes of fish spawns, and with the very fast growth rate of crappie in these lakes, the crappie fishing has rebounded extremely well.”
For fast-paced action on slab crappie, both lakes Marion and Moultrie can provide all the action you can handle and outstanding table fare.
HOW TO GET THERE — The Santee Cooper lakes have plenty of access points. On the north side of Lake Marion, Manning is a prime destination. Take I-95 to Exit 119 and take SC 261 east. The Town of Santee is also ideal and is at Exit 98 on I-95; it offers good access to the Diversion Canal area and to Lake Moultrie. On Lake Moultrie, both Moncks Corner and Bonneau offer quick access to the lake.
WHEN TO GO — October is a great month for both quantity and quality crappie on Marion and Moultrie. According to most guides, this is an excellent time to catch more slab-sized fish. While some are out early, you do not have to be on the lake at dawn to be successful, with mid-morning to mid-day often being a very good time to fish.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Live minnows are the bait of choice for October crappie; however, in the hands of an experienced angler, small jigs will work great as well. Also, Guide Kevin Davis often uses a jig with a minnow trailer when it’s tough to produce a cooler full of slabs.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Blacks Camp, Cross, 843-753-2231 or www.blackscamp.com; Santee Cooper Country, 803-854-2131 or www.santeecoopercountry.org; Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce, Manning, 803-435-4405; South Carolina Association of Visitors Bureaus (www.discoversouthcarolina.com).